Social Media Bullying: Understand It. Stop It!
By: Courtney Cagle
Amber was browsing Instagram when she saw an unappealing picture of one of her school peers. Curious, she started going through the comment section to see what her friends were saying about the picture. Her friends were posting comments such as, “Could you cover up any less? #slut,” and “That boy better stay away from her. Her STDs are so bad you could catch it from the air she breathes.” Amber laughed at the comments and decided to join in.
She didn’t stop to consider how her actions would affect the girl in the picture, she just wanted to impress her friends. After typing out a few messages, she decided on, “Yeah, she must have been drunk to think this was actually a good pic!!” The next day at school, Amber saw the girl from the picture as she was walking down the hall. As soon as the girl noticed Amber she turned and quickly walked away. Amber then realized that her comment must have hurt the girl’s feelings, but her feelings of guilt quickly disappear when her friends mentioned how funny her comment was.
Stories like this happen nearly every day in American high schools. More than one in three teens have experienced cyberbullying online. 25 percent of these kids reported repeated bullying through their phones alone. Although most parents believe cyberbullying can be easily stopped by blocking someone online, many teens have reported that their cyber-bullies will simply create new accounts and continue to relentlessly bully them no matter what precautions are taken (Cyberbullying Statistics, 2015).
As a parent, you might feel helpless in a cyberbullying situation. The first thing you can do is know and watch for warning signs that your child might be being bullied. Some of these signs are:
- Feeling sick or faking illness
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Changes in eating habits, binging, or skipping meals
- Sudden avoidance of social situations
- Loss of interest in hobbies or school
- Decreased self-esteem
If you suspect bullying, you may wonder what your role is? How can you help decrease the effects of cyberbullying? While it can feel difficult to approach your child to ask if they have been cyberbullied it is important to support and help.
Here are six things you can do as a parent to help prevent bullying:
- Be media literate, especially social media literate. Most of us have a very limited ability to “read” media, especially social media. Sometimes can be difficult for us to accept that everyone, our family and friends included, are “selling” a message through their social media. We need to be savvy enough to see the underlying messages of all forms of media including social media, fake news, and online ads. A great resource to help you and your family become media literate is Petra’s Power to See, A Media Literacy Adventure. Although it’s geared toward kids ages 6-12, I guarantee you and your teen will learn A LOT from this book!
- Talk to your child about the incredible potential in technology. If your child feels like you are discounting the good things about social media, they may not feel open enough to talk about the risks of social media. They need to know you understand that technology isn’t all bad. When discussing technology remember to cover both the dangers AND the positives. Teach them to use technology for a healthy, deliberate purpose (Johnson, 2017). For more information on how to teach your children how to use technology for good, check out our book Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good.
- Be upfront and honest with your child about the risks of social media. Educate and help your child understand that social media can be dangerous. Explain the risks and what they should do if they encounter something harmful. This will arm them with knowledge and help them be safer while using social media.
- It is also critical for your kids to know that they can come to you if anything happens. When you talk about the risks of social media, ask them about what they have encountered and remind them that they can always talk to you if they need to. (Baron, 2017). Check out our Ultimate Guide to Social Media for everything you need to know!
- Be thoughtful about how you approach the conversation. Make sure when you talk to your child you use language in the form of facts, i.e. something that you personally saw or heard. Refrain from using judgmental language like, “You’re rude,” “That was stupid,” or “It’s ridiculous to talk like that.” Judgmental language can lead to negative emotions and prevent open communication from happening with your child (Baron, 2017).
- Establish firm rules and boundaries with your child. Create a media guideline with your kids. Make rules with them and allow them to take part in establishing boundaries. Including them in the process will make it easier for them to follow and accept what has been decided. If they know and understand the rules, it won’t be as hard for them to show you their social media feed or text messages when you suspect they are being bullied (Andrews, 2016). Make sure your child knows that you reserve the right to look at their technology if you are worried about their safety or mental health. Remember, if you believe your child is being cyberbullied, you should ask to look at their social media and their messages. Our Ultimate Guide to Social Media has a helpful Social Media Contract to help establish firm guidelines.
- Have meaningful, daily communication with your child. If you are communicating with your child on a daily basis, it shows them you are willing to listen.. Ask them questions about their life, how they are feeling, what they did that day, etc. You want to dive deep and learn about them so you are best able to help them. Make sure they are comfortable to share when they’ve been bullied online or elsewhere. It’s important to open the lines of communication and allow them to come to you with their concerns.
We must know what is going on in our children’s lives. Cyberbullying is going on all around us, and it’s important to keep your children safe as well as educated. For more information on bullying, signs, and what you can do, check out our article, Giving a Voice to Bullying Victims.
As you continue to talk with your kids about bullying and social media, it may be helpful to learn about the most dangerous apps of 2019, some of which your kids might have. Remember, don’t just focus on the dangers and negative aspects of online behavior; teach your kids how to use technology for good. Our book, Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good, is a great place to start.
Courtney Cagle is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho graduating in Marriage and Family Studies. She loves kids and wants to help create a safe environment for all children to learn and grow.
Andrews, C. (2018, February 12). Creating a Media Guideline for Your Family. Retrieved June 20, 2018, from https://educateempowerkids.org/creating-media-guideline-family-2
Baron, J. (2017, December 12). Talking to Your Kids About Cyberbullying Part 1: Tools for Parents. Retrieved June 16, 2018, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/blog/2017/12/12/talking-to-your-kids-about-cyberbullying-part-1.html
Cyber Bullying Statistics. (2015, July 07). Retrieved June 16, 2018, from http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html
Johnson, J. (2017, September 13). Teaching My Children to Be Great Digital Citizens. Retrieved June 20, 2018, from https://educateempowerkids.org/teaching-children-great-digital-citizens
Warning Signs for Bullying. (2018, February 07). Retrieved June 16, 2018, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/index.html